By Barbara Kollmeyer
London stocks were setting up for the best session in five on Thursday, after upbeat results from a number of blue chips, including Smith & Nephew, Unilever and Royal Dutch Shell. Shares of BT Group rose on speculation surrounding the sale of its sports unit.
The FTSE 100 index /zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed UK:UKX -0.42% rose 0.5% to retake the 7,000 level. The index hasn’t closed at 7,000 since April 19. The pound, meanwhile, inched up 0.1% against the dollar.
Strong earnings on both sides of the Atlantic were inspiring investors as companies continue to recover from COVID-19 pandemic hits. Shares of Standard Chartered topped the gainers list, up 6% after the U.K. lender reported a profit jump in the first quarter as it slashed provisions and saw business pick up from a rebound in Asian markets.
Gains for Standard Chartered also boosted shares of rival HSBC /zigman2/quotes/208272822/composite HSBC -1.03% . Shares of the heavily weighted bank gained 3%.
Just behind Standard Chartered, shares of Smith & Nephew /zigman2/quotes/203117274/composite SNN -1.84% /zigman2/quotes/207176500/delayed UK:SN -1.25% climbed 5%, after the medical devices group resumed its full-year guidance following a revenue increase in the first quarter. The company reported a return to growth across most divisions.
Another big gainer in London was consumer-goods giant Unilever /zigman2/quotes/205449809/delayed UK:ULVR -0.39% /zigman2/quotes/204685760/composite UL -0.45% , which said adverse currency effects hit turnover in the first quarter, but that full-year sales should meet multiyear growth targets , and a share-buyback program will begin next month.
Shares of Royal Dutch Shell /zigman2/quotes/206428183/delayed UK:RDSA -0.21% /zigman2/quotes/205095589/composite RDS.A -0.23% climbed 1.4%, as it reported stronger first-quarter earnings, as oil and gas prices continued to recover. Shares of rival BP /zigman2/quotes/202286639/delayed UK:BP -0.59% /zigman2/quotes/207305210/composite BP -0.74% rose over 1%.
On the downside, shares of NatWest /zigman2/quotes/209265718/delayed UK:NWG -0.30% /zigman2/quotes/203233010/composite NWG -0.93% fell 3%, after the U.K. bank reported results. Operating pretax profit rose sharply and beat expectations, as the bank released some of the money it had stowed away to weather a potential wave of soured loans.
“From a strategic perspective, the bank has its work cut out with the continuing shrinking of NatWest Markets and a slow withdrawal from the Ulster Bank business,” said Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, in a note to clients.
“The challenges ahead and the price performance of late leaves the shares up with events for the moment, with the market consensus currently coming in at a strong hold,” said Hunter.
And shares of BT Group /zigman2/quotes/209006687/delayed UK:BT.A -2.24% climbed 3%, after the telecommunications group confirmed that it was in early discussions with some strategic partners in relation to its BT Sport business. The confirmation from BT came after media reports indicated BT was in talks with online retailer Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +1.11% and entertainment giant Walt Disney /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -3.01% , as well as with sports-streaming platform DAZN, for a potential sale of a stake in the business.
“This has been a long time coming — the vast sums BT paid to secure football rights was always at odds with the core business,” said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, in a note to clients.